Large-group awareness training

Large-group awareness training

Large-group awareness training (LGAT) refers to activities usually offered by groups linked with the human potential movement[1] which claim to increase self-awareness and bring about desirable transformations in individuals' personal lives.[2] They have been described by Michael Langone as "new age trainings"[3] and by Philip Cushman as "mass marathon trainings".[4]

LGAT programs may involve several hundred people at a time.[5] Though early definitions cited LGATs as featuring unusually long durations, more recent texts describe the trainings as lasting from a few hours to a few days.[6] In 2004, DuMerton, citing "Langone (1989)", estimated that "[p]erhaps a million Americans have attended LGATs".[7]: 39 Forsyth and Corazzini cite Lieberman (1994) as suggesting "that at least 1.3 million Americans have taken part in LGAT sessions".[8]


Definitions of LGAT

DuMerton described Large Group Awareness Training as "teaching simple, but often overlooked wisdom, which takes place over the period of a few days, in which individuals receive intense, emotionally-focused instruction." [7] Rubinstein compared large-group awareness training to certain principles of cognitive therapy, such as the idea that people can change their lives by interpreting the way they view external circumstances.[9] And in Consumer Research: Postcards from the edge, when discussing behavioral and economic studies, the authors contrasted the "enclosed locations" used with Large Group Awareness Trainings with the "relatively open" environment of a "variety store".[10]

The Handbook of Group Psychotherapy described Large Group Awareness Training as focusing on "philosophical, psychological and ethical issues", as related to a desire to increase personal effectiveness in people's lives.[11]

Psychologist Dennis Coon's textbook, Psychology: A Journey, defined the term "LGAT" as referring to: "programs that claim to increase self-awareness and facilitate constructive personal change."[2] Coon further defines Large Group Awareness Training in his book Introduction to Psychology.[12]

The evolution of LGAT-providers

Lou Kilzer, in The Rocky Mountain News, identified Leadership Dynamics as the first of the genre of what psychologists termed "Large Group Awareness Training".[13]

In their self-published book, Navarro and Navarro identify Mind Dynamics as the major forerunner of large group awareness trainings.[14] They write that, although Mind Dynamics itself existed only briefly, it sparked an industry of similar trainings.[14]

Groups and trainings such as Lifespring, Erhard Seminars Training, The Forum, Newfield Consulting, Seres Naturales and Landmark Education claimed to have worked to improve people's overall level of satisfaction and interpersonal relations through group interaction.[15] [16][17]

Academic analyses, studies

"Large Group Awareness Training", a 1982 peer-reviewed article published in Annual Review of Psychology, sought to summarize literature on the subject of LGATs and to examine their efficacy and their relationship with more standard psychology. This academic article describes and analyzes large group awareness training from a psychological perspective. Influenced by the work of humanistic psychologists such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Rollo May and sometimes associated with the human potential movement,[18][19] LGATs as commercial trainings took many techniques from encounter groups.[citation needed] They existed alongside but "outside the domains of academic psychology or psychiatry. Their measure of performance was consumer satisfaction and formal research was seldom pursued."[20]

The article describes an est training, and discusses the literature on the testimony of est graduates. It notes minor changes on psychological tests after the training and mentions anecdotal reports of psychiatric casualties among est trainees. The article considers how est compares to more standard psychotherapy techniques such as behavior therapy, group and existential psychotherapy before concluding with a call for "objective and rigorous research" and stating that unknown variables might have accounted for some of the positive accounts. Psychologists advised borderline or psychotic patients not to participate.[20]

Psychological factors cited by academics include emotional "flooding", catharsis, universality (identification with others), the instillation of hope, identification and what Sartre called "uncontested authorship".[20]

In 1989 researchers from the University of Connecticut received the "National Consultants to Management Award" from the American Psychological Association for their study: Evaluating a Large Group Awareness Training.[21] The study concluded that participation in the LGAT studied (the Forum) had very little impact on participants.[citation needed]

Psychologist Chris Mathe has written in the interests of consumer-protection, encouraging potential attendees of LGATs to discuss such trainings with any current therapist or counselor, to examine the principles underlying the program, and to determine pre-screening methods, the training of facilitators, the full cost of the training and of any suggested follow-up care.[22]

LGAT techniques

Finkelstein's 1982 article provides a detailed description of the structure and techniques of an Erhard Seminars Training event, noting an authoritarian demeanor of the trainer, physical strains on the participants from a long schedule, and the similarity of many techniques to those used in some group therapy and encounter groups.[20] The academic textbook, Handbook of Group Psychotherapy regards Large Group Awareness Training organisations as "less open to leader differences", because they follow a "detailed written plan" that does not vary from one training to the next.[11]

Specific techniques used in Large Group Awareness Trainings may include:

LGATs utilize such techniques during long sessions, sometimes called a "marathon" session. Paglia describes "EST's Large Group Awareness Training": "Marathon, eight-hour sessions, in which [participants] were confined and harassed, supposedly led to the breakdown of conventional ego, after which they were in effect born again."[25]

In his book Life 102, LGAT participant and former trainer Peter McWilliams describes the basic technique of marathon trainings as pressure/release and asserts that advertising uses pressure/release "all the time", as do "good cop/bad cop" police-interrogations and revival meetings. By spending approximately half the time making a person feel bad and then suddenly reversing the feeling through effusive praise, the programs cause participants to experience a stress-reaction and an "endorphin high". McWilliams gives examples of various LGAT activities called processes with names such as "love bomb," "lifeboat", "cocktail party" and "cradling" which take place over many hours and days, physically exhausting the participants to make them more susceptible to the trainer's message, whether in the participants' best interests or not.[26]

Although extremely critical of some LGATs, McWilliams found positive value in others, asserting that they varied not in technique but in the application of technique.[26]

Evaluations of LGATs

Finkelstein noted the many difficulties in evaluating LGATs, from proponents' explicit rejection of certain study models to difficulty in establishing a rigorous control group.[20] In some cases, organizations under study have partially funded research into themselves.[27]

Not all professional researchers view LGATs favorably. Researchers such as psychologist Philip Cushman,[28] for example, found that the program he studied "consists of a pre-meditated attack on the self". A 1983 study on Lifespring[29] found that "although participants often experience a heightened sense of well-being as a consequence of the training, the phenomenon is essentially pathological", meaning that, in the program studied, "the training systematically undermines ego functioning and promotes regression to the extent that reality testing is significantly impaired". Lieberman's 1987 study,[27] funded partially by Lifespring, noted that 5 out of a sample of 289 participants experienced "stress reactions" including one "transitory psychotic episode". He commented: "Whether [these five] would have experienced such stress under other conditions cannot be answered. The clinical evidence, however, is that the reactions were directly attributable to the large group awareness training."

In Coon's psychology textbook (Introduction to Psychology) the author references many other studies, which postulate that many of the "claimed benefits" of Large Group Awareness Training actually take the form of "a kind of therapy placebo effect".[12] DuMerton writes that "... there is a lack of scientific evidence to quantify the longer-term positive outcomes and changes objectively ..."[7] Jarvis described Large Group Awareness Training as "educationally dubious" in the 2002 book The Theory & Practice of Teaching.[30]

Tapper mentions that "some [unspecified] large group-awareness training and psychotherapy groups" exemplify non-religious "cults".[31] Benjamin criticizes LGAT groups for their high prices and spiritual subtleties.[32] In an academic research-paper on "Choices", a type of LGAT, researchers credited LGAT programs with having had perhaps a million American attendees, many of whom gave positive testimonials of "healing effects" and "positive outcomes in their lives".[7]

LGATs in comparison with cults


The American Psychological Association commissioned and subsequently decided not to endorse[33] and strongly criticised[34] a report by the APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control, in which the so-called[by whom?] "anti-cult" psychologist Margaret Singer included large group awareness trainings as one example of what she called "coercive persuasion". The APA characterized Singer's hypotheses as "uninformed speculations based on skewed data"[34][verification needed] [The quoted text does not appear in the reference given.] and stated that the report "[i]n general" lacked "the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur."[35] The APA also claimed that "the specific methods by which Drs. Singer and Benson have arrived at their conclusions have also been rejected by all serious scholars in the field."[36] Singer sued the APA, and lost on June 17, 1994[37] After the APA spurned the report, Singer remained in good standing in the psychological research community.[38] Singer reworked much of the report material into the book Cults in our Midst: The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives (1995, second edition: 2003), which she co-authored with Janja Lalich.

Singer and Lalich stated that "large group awareness trainings" tend to last at least four days and usually five. Their book mentions Erhard Seminars Training and its derivatives such as the Forum, "Lifespring, Actualizations, MSIA/Insight and PSI Seminars.[39]

In her book, Singer differentiated between the usage of the terms cult and Large Group Awareness Training.[39][page needed] while pointing out some commonalities.[40][41] Elsewhere she groups the two phenomena together in that they both use a shared set of thought-reform techniques.[42] Singer also writes that employees taking part in a company-wide Large Group Awareness Training program not only complained about attempted religious conversion, but also objected to the specific techniques used.[23]


An article in Cult Observer by Michael Langone Ph.D. analysed Large Group Awareness Training.[3] Langone noted comparisons between Large Group Awareness Training and "brainwashing" and "cults"; and posited that many LGAT groups have an implied or even explicit religious nature.[3] Langone concluded by stating that he knew of no specific academic research which showed that Large Group Awareness Trainings have positive behavioral effects.[3] Langone cited a study which showed no difference between the Large Group Awareness Training test-subjects and the control group.[3][43]


The International Cultic Studies Association has grouped some Large Group Awareness Training organizations together with research about them.[44]

See also


  1. ^ For example, Eret, Dylan C. (January 1, 2001). "Capitalizing on self-fulfilling prophecies: The vernacular dimensions of Anthony Robbins' self-empowerment enterprise". University of Pennsylvania dissertation. Retrieved August 5, 2009. "Abstract[: ...] the numerous intensive therapies of the Human Potential Movement and LGATs during the 1960s and 1970s within American culture" 
  2. ^ a b Coon, Dennis (2004). Psychology: A Journey. Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 520, 528, 538. ISBN 0534632645. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Langone, Michael (1998). "Large Group Awareness Trainings". Cult Observer 15 (1). ISSN 1539-0152. 
  4. ^ Mass Marathon Trainings, excerpted, The Politics of Transformation: Recruitment – Indoctrination Processes in a Mass Marathon Psychology Organization, St. Martin's Press 1993, Philip Cushman, Ph.D.
  5. ^ Weigel, Richard G. (2002). "The marathon encounter group—vision and reality: Exhuming the body for a last look". Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research (American Psychological Association) 54 (3): 186–198. doi:10.1037/1061-4087.54.3.186. ISSN 1065-9293. Retrieved January 9, 2010. "The groups I'm talking about are est (and its more recent descendant, The Forum) and Lifespring, both of which use structured activities; involve several hundred or more participants and one central leader [...]" 
  6. ^ But note Greco's 2006 description: Greco, Elena (2006). "The use of persuasion in cults: are we free to choose?" (PDF). p. 9. Retrieved April 6, 2010. "The Landmark Forum (fka est) is a Large Group Awareness Training ("LGAT") that promises to improve the quality of your life [...] [T]he participants are kept unaware of how they are being broken down. They are kept in a windowless room for several days, for very long hours." 
  7. ^ a b c d DuMerton, C. Lynn (July 2004). "Tragic Optimism and Choices: The Life Attitudes Scale with a First Nations Sample". [Master's Thesis] (Trinity Western University [Hosted on university web-site]) (Master of Arts, Graduate Counseling Psychology Program). Archived from the original on October 1, 2006. Retrieved June 22, 2009. 
  8. ^ Forsyth, Donelson R.; Corazzini, John G. (2000). "Groups as Change Agents". In Snyder, Charles Richard; Ingram, R E. Handbook of psychological change: Psychotherapy processes and practices for the 21st century. New York: Wiley. "Lieberman suggests that at least 1.3 million Americans have taken part in LGAT sessions." 
  9. ^ Rubinstein, Gidi (2005). "Characteristics of participants in the Forum, psychotherapy clients, and control participants: A comparative study". Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice (British Psychological Society) 78 (4): 481–492. doi:10.1348/147608305X42721. PMID 16354440. ISSN 1476-0835. 
  10. ^ Brown, Stephen I.; Darach Turley (1997). Consumer Research: Postcards from the edge. Routledge. pp. 279. ISBN 0415173175. ISBN 041515684X. 
  11. ^ a b Burlingame, Gary M. (1994). Handbook of Group Psychotherapy: An Empirical and Clinical Synthesis. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 528, 532, 535, 539, 549, 550, 555, 556, 581, 583.. ISBN 0471555924. 
  12. ^ a b Coon, Dennis (2003). Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior. Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 648, 649, 655.. ISBN 0495599131. ISBN 053461227X. 
  13. ^ Kilzer, Lou (July 18, 1999). "Desperate Measures Network of Behavior Modification Compounds Known as Teen Help Has Straightened Out Hundreds of Defiant Adolescents, But Its Methods Aren't For the Faint-hearted.". Rocky Mountain News (E. W. Scripps Company). 
    "The first of the genre psychologists call "large group awareness training" was the Leadership Dynamics Institute..."
  14. ^ a b Navarro,, Espy M.; Robert Navarro (2002). Self Realization: The Est and Forum Phenomena in American Society. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 54. ISBN 1401042201. "Mind Dynamics, founded by Alexander Everett, was the major forerunner of large group awareness trainings. Although Mind Dynamics was only in existence for a few years, it sparked an entire industry of similar trainings." 
  15. ^ Brewer, Maryilyn B.; Miles Hewstone (2004). Applied Social Psychology. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 81.. ISBN 1405110678. 
  16. ^ Tindale, R. Scott (2001). Group Processes: Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 630. ISBN 1405106530. 
    "EST, FORUM and LIFESPRING are all examples of LGATs, for members seek to improve their overall level of satisfaction and interpersonal relations by carrying out such experiential exercises as role-playing, group singing and chanting, and guided group interaction."
  17. ^ Zeig, Jeffrey K. (1997). The Evolution of Psychotherapy: The Third Conference. Psychology Press. pp. 352, 357.. ISBN 0876308132. 
    "Training or T-groups, sensitivity training, and encounter groups spread and were followed by commercially sold large group awareness training programs, such as est, Lifespring and other programs."
  18. ^ See for example: Fisher, Jeffrey D. (1990). Evaluating a large group awareness training: a longitudinal study of psychosocial effects. Springer-Verlag. p. 1. ISBN 9780387973203. "Large Group Awareness Training: An Historical Context. Groups associated with the human potential movement have been a controversial feature of American life during the last three decades." 
  19. ^ Note also: Safigan, Steve J. (2009). "Experiential Learning Groups: History, an Exploratory Case Study, and Possible Mechanisms of Change" (PDF). Positive Psychology Center: Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) Capstone Projects. University of Pennsylvania. pp. 73. Retrieved November 17, 2009. "As the human potential movement exploded in the sixties, so did the popularity and variety of encounter groups. [...] In the words of Richard Weigel (2002), encounter groups and other experiential learning groups 'spread like wildfire from being therapy, to being the ultimate personal growth experience, to being a full-fledged social movement... hoopla, epidemic, fad, and cash cow.'[...] Experiential learning groups have lost most of their momentum and popularity, though several continue to thrive. [...] The most popular format is the large group awareness training (LGAT). LGATs attempt to attract a more business-oriented clientele who have access to corporate training budgets. Hundreds of thousands of individuals participate every year in these types of seminars, run by Anthony Robbins, Landmark Education, Lifespring, and hundreds of other programs." 
  20. ^ a b c d e Finkelstein, P.; Wenegrat, B.; Yalom, I. (1982). "Large Group Awareness Training". Annual Review of Psychology (Calvin Perry Stone) 33 (1): 515–539. doi:10.1146/ ISSN 0066-4308. 
  21. ^ Fisher, Jeffrey D.; Silver, Chinsky, Goff, Klar (1990). Evaluating a Large Group Awareness Training. Springer-Verlag. p. vii. ISBN 0387973206 , ISBN 978-0387973203. "The research reported in this volume was awarded the American Psychological Association, Division 13, National Consultants to Management Award, August 13, 1989." 
  22. ^ Choosing a Personal Growth Program: Ten questions to help you make an informed decision, Chris Mathe, Ph. D., 1999
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h "Intruding into the Workplace", Dr. Margaret Singer, excerpted from Singer, Margaret; Janja Lalich (1995). Cults in our Midst. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. ISBN 0787900516. Retrieved November 19, 2007. "Aside from complaining that they were being put through programs tantamount to a forced religious conversion, employees also objected to specific techniques being used: meditation, neurolinguistic programming, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, bizarre relaxation techniques, mind control, body touching, yoga, trance inductions, visualization, and in some cases, intense confrontational sessions akin to the "attack" therapy methods that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s." 
  24. ^ Partridge, C. (2004). New Religions: A Guide; New Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities. Oxford University Press. pp. 407. ISBN 0-19-522042-0. 
  25. ^ +-Paglia, Carmen (Winter 2003). "Cults and Cosmic Consciousness: Religious Vision in the American 1960s" (PDF). Arion (Boston University) 10 (3). Retrieved August 5, 2009. [dead link]
  26. ^ a b Peter McWilliams, Life 102: What to Do When Your Guru Sues You (Prelude Press: Los Angeles, 1994). ISBN 0-931580-34-X., pp 6–7.
  27. ^ a b Lieberman, "Effects of Large Group Awareness Training on Participants' Psychiatric Status", American Journal of Psychiatry v 144 p 460-464, April 1987.
  28. ^ Cushman, "Iron Fists/Velvet Gloves: A Study of A Mass Marathon Psychology Training", Psychotherapy vol 26, Spring 1989.
  29. ^ Haaken, J. and Adams, R., "Pathology as 'Personal Growth': A Participant-Observation Study of Lifespring Training", Psychiatry, vol 46, August 1983.
  30. ^ Jarvis, Peter (2002). The Theory & Practice of Teaching. Routledge. pp. 97. ISBN 0749434090. 
  31. ^ Tapper, A (September 2002). "The Impact of Cults on Health" (PDF). Nursing Spectrum. 
  32. ^ Benjamin, Ph.D., Elliot (June 2005). "Spirituality and Cults" (PDF). Integral Science. 
  33. ^ University of Virginia Library
  34. ^ a b "Memorandum". CESNUR: APA Memo of 1987 with Enclosures. CESNUR Center for Studies on New Religions. May 11, 1987. Retrieved August 5, 2009. 
  35. ^ "Memorandum". CESNUR: APA Memo of 1987 with Enclosures. CESNUR Center for Studies on New Religions. May 11, 1987. Retrieved August 5, 2009. "BSERP thanks the Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control for its service but is unable to accept the report of the Task Force. In general, the report lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur." 
  36. ^ CESNUR – APA Brief in the Molko Case
  37. ^ Decision Against Margaret Singer (CESNUR)
  38. ^ Blim, Andrew: 'Cult Experts Sue Lawyers, Others" in National Law Journal, August 31, 1992, Vol 33, Issue 19: "Berkeley professors Margaret Singer and Richard Ofshe ... are viewed by even the lawyer-defendants as reputable scholars".
  39. ^ a b Intruding into the Workplace, Dr. Margaret Singer, excerpted from Cults in our Midst (book), 1995
  40. ^ Singer, Margaret Thaler (1995). "8. Intruding into the Workplace". Cults in our midst. Jossey-Bass social and behavioral science series. with Janja Lalich ; foreword by Robert Jay Lifton. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. pp. 381. ISBN 0787900516. Retrieved May 26, 2010. "In California, for example, where residents have seventy-two hours to decide not to make purchases elicited by high pressure, people have more protection from door-to-door magazine salespersons than they do from being taken in and pressured by cults and recruiters for LGATs. I have included LGATs in this book because they represent forms of coordinated programs of intense persuasion and group pressure. I am not discussing here the many excellent skill-training, educational, and motivational programs that are used in business and industry for practical results. But apart from those programs, there are many training schemes that employ thought-reform processes that can harm employees and engender lawsuits for employers. They are a modern-day, corporate version of social and psychological influence techniques that make people deployable without their knowledge or consent—precisely my objection to cults." 
  41. ^ Singer, Margaret Thaler (1995). Cults in our midst. Jossey-Bass social and behavioral science series. with Janja Lalich ; foreword by Robert Jay Lifton. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. p. 85. ISBN 0787900516. Retrieved May 26, 2010. "[...] cultic groups use large group awareness training (LGAT) techniques [...]" 
  42. ^ Singer, Margaret Thaler (2003). "The Process of Brainwashing, Psychological Coercion, and Thought reform". In Dawson, Lorne L.. Cults and new religious movements: a reader. Blackwell readings in religion. 2 (2 ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 149–150. ISBN 9781405101813. Retrieved May 26, 2010. "There is [...] an important distinction [...] between the version of though reform prevalent in the 1940s and 1950s and the version used by a number of contemporary groups, including cults, large group awareness training programs, and assorted other groups. These latter-day efforts have built upon the age-old influence techniques to perfect amazingly successful programs of persuasion and change. What's new – and crucial – is that these programs change attitudes by attacking essential aspects of a person's sense of self, unlike the earlier brainwashing programs that primarily confronted a person's political beliefs." 
  43. ^ Hosford, Ray, E., Moss, C. Scott, Cavior, Helene, & Kerish, Burton. Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 1982, Manuscript #2419, American Psychological Association
  44. ^ "Large Group Awareness Trainings (LGAT)". Cultic Studies Journal, International Cultic Studies Association. Archived from the original on January 28, 2006. Retrieved January 18, 2006. 

Further reading




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